If you take a look at almost any bestseller list, you can usually expect to see at least a few crime novels in there. This is a genre that is seriously popular and has huge numbers of dedicated fans.
But why is this? Why is crime fiction so popular?
If you asked ten different people that question, you would probably get ten different answers. People like books for different reasons. But still, I think we can identify some common themes that bind people together in their love for crime fiction.
One of these common themes has got to be the sheer range and variety that can be found within the genre. From the sleuthing of Sherlock Holmes to grittier, more gruesome modern thrillers, to cosy mysteries, to the recent rise in popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction, there is a lot going on within crime fiction and so it stands to reason that most people are bound to be able to find something about it that they like.
I think the mystery inherent in the genre is also another of the big selling points. If you think about it, all of the best books – crime fiction or not – have some element of mystery or tension in them. Why is that character behaving like that? What is the point of that subplot? What will happen when X meets Y? These are the sorts of things that grab people’s attention and, when they’re done well, hold their attention right through to the end.
And, even though books of all genres employ tactics such as this, I’d argue that in many cases, crime fiction does it the best. The stakes are very often literally about life and death and one of the key skills of a mystery writer is to make people want to keep turning the page – you shouldn’t want to put the book down until you’ve read it to the end. I think that compulsion to find out what happened and the buzz you get from reading a really compelling mystery go a long way to explaining just why we love these books so much.
Plus, there is a kind of intrigue in crime. It’s something that we’re all aware of and know about, and so even if we’ve never really experienced it ourselves, we can still believe many of the actions in these books taking place. There’s a believability to the best crime fiction that makes it compelling – and books provide a safe place to explore different sides of humanity.
Which brings us onto the issue of character. Some of the most complex, interesting and best known literary characters come from crime fiction. The best books are peopled with characters we want to know more about – we don’t always get to know more, at least not very quickly (especially if we’re talking about a series of novels), but the well-drawn and compelling characters have to be one of the top reasons for the popularity of the genre. After all, if the characters were no good, we wouldn’t care.
We also get a chance to use our brains with these books, whether it’s trying to work out a character’s motive, think through the ‘whodunnit’ mystery, or read between the lines to pick up meaning that hasn’t been explicitly stated. And all of that is even before we talk about the compelling, twisty, unexpected plots that so many crime novels utilise so successfully, or the hard-hitting endings that knock you for six.
To use a cliché, crime fiction has the whole package. It has the characters, the plot, the suspense, the mystery, the top quality writing and, often, the promise of more to come in the next book and the next. And there is always more to read. This is a genre where there’s always a new book to discover, where someone you know has a recommendation of a book you just have to read, or your favourite writer is due to release the next instalment of their must-read series.
It’s an exciting genre, and one I’m hugely proud to be writing in. But what are your reasons for loving crime fiction? I’d love to know what you think…